Duriana Asselin watched as her reflection fidgeted in the mirror, tugging at the sleeves that touched the ground. She dropped her arms to her sides and stared at herself for a minute. The rich red velvet looked nice on her, bringing out the color in her lips and pleasantly accenting her long dark hair. Not that Duriana particularly cared. Fancy, cumbersome attire was simply another annoyance of being the daughter of a Lord.
The door burst open. “Duriana-”
Duriana hurriedly shoved her bow and quiver of arrows at her feet behind the mirror as her older sister barged into the room.
“Oh, I apologize. I should have knocked. Were you dressing?”
“No. Come in,” she replied.
Jasmine closed the door. “Where were you earlier? Mother was expecting you for a cooking lesson.”
“I was detained in the stables,” Duriana lied. Jasmine avoided the stables with such vigor that she wouldn’t catch onto the lie. “Have you offered my apologies?”
“I tried. However, it is the third lesson you have missed in as many days,” Jasmine said, disapproval heavy in her voice.
“I cannot see why it matters especially. You are the eldest; you will assume most of the duties when mother cannot perform them any longer,” Duriana said dismissively, striding across the room to look out the window. “I can tend to the stables and the tasks that you prefer to avoid.”
“Even so, you have a reputation to uphold. You are supposed to be well learned in the ways of the household,” Jasmine protested. “It is your duty.”
Duriana looked away. When she spoke, there was bitterness in her voice. “My duty - to cook, clean and sew. Do you not think there is more to life than remaining in the same place day after day? Do you not want to go out an see the world?”
“I am content,” her sister replied. “It is not our place to go; we are to stay and tend to the home. It is one less thing for father and our brothers to worry about as they are off in battle.”
“Battle?” Duriana asked sharply, turning around. “What battle? I thought we were at peace.”
Jasmine shot her a condescending look. “If you had been inside when you were supposed to, you would have been present for the messenger’s arrival. He brought news of an attack by the tribes on Blair Castle. Father and Geoffrey leave in the morning with a host of reinforcements.”
“Geoffrey too?” Duriana asked in surprise, heart sinking. Georffrey was her twin, her brother and best friend. He was the one who offered to train her in archery and sword play.
Nodding sadly, Jasmine replied, “Yes. Father is outfitting him now with armor.” She studied Duriana’s face. “He will be fine, Sister. He was trained by the best.”
“I know. I just...” Duriana trailed off. I just wish he didn’t have to go.
Jasmine nodded empathetically before sweeping towards the door. “Finish dressing and then come down for dinner. Mother is waiting.”
As the door closed behind her sister, Duriana sank to the floor. Her brother was leaving for battle. It would be dangerous, she was certain. If he didn’t come back...No, he had to come back. He had to. She couldn’t bear to think of life without him. She refused to think of life without him.
There was no reply. Duriana lifted her hand to knock again, softly but firmly.
The door cracked open. “Who is it?” a groggy voice hissed.
“Duriana,” she replied. “Geoffrey, I need to talk to you.” She pushed on the door gently and it gave, allowing her admittance. Geoffrey was fumbling with an oil lamp as she closed the door.
“This could not have waited until morning?” he grumbled.
“No,” Duriana replied. “In the morning is when you are leaving.”
Geoffrey gave her a pitying look. “Listen, Duriana, I know this is hard for yo-”
“I am going with you.”
Geoffrey broke off mid-sentence. “Pardon?”
“I am going with you,” she repeated. “You taught me well with a sword, I can help, I can fight with you.” I can watch your back, she added in her head.
He shook his head. “No. I will not allow it.”
“You cannot stop it.”
Geoffrey looked at her, pained. “Duriana, I love you. I cannot let you put yourself in danger like this. It is a man’s duty; let us fight.”
Duriana’s eyes narrowed. “You yourself admitted that you had never seen the likes of my shot amongst any of the archers in your ranks. I can help you, Geoffrey! Whether you give me your explicit leave or not, I will go.”
“What will Father say? What will Mother say?” Geoffrey challenged, changing the subject. “You cannot honestly believe that they will allow you to go.”
“I do not care. I will disguise myself. The armory is never locked, I can go steal some mail right now,” Duriana shot back. “Mother will not know until we are long gone and I can hide from Father. You can help me.” She looked at him pleadingly.
“I-” Geoffrey faltered and shook his head. “I never can say no to you.”
Duriana smiled. “You will help, then?”
“Yes. But I am only doing this because I think you are strong enough. And...” he trailed off.
“And I do need you at my side, Sister. There is no one I would trust more to be guarding my back. After all, you were trained by the best in the land.”
Duriana scoffed, “I was trained by you.”
Geoffrey smiled that familiar cocky smile. “And?”
She laughed. “Thank you, Geoffrey.”
“Of course,” he replied. “I will go get the armor for you,” he offered. “After being outfitted myself today, I think I know what sizes will fit you best.”
Duriana nodded. “I will go gather my things. Oh, do you have a dagger that I might borrow?”
Geoffrey nodded, and picked one up from the stand by his bed. He offered it to her, handle first. Duriana gripped it without a word and, before she could hesitate, gathered her long dark ringlets in one hand, sawing them off with the knife. The clump of hair came loose in her hands and she lowered the knife.
“What have you-”
“I have to blend in, do I not?” she said more calmly than she felt. “It is difficult to do so with long hair.”
“I suppose...” Geoffrey replied, taking the knife back.
Duriana glanced in the mirror, looking at her hair, now shorn at the jawline in choppy, uneven rows. She turned away before her eyes could water.
“Meet me at my room early in the morning, agreed?” she asked. Her brother nodded. “Goodnight, then.”
“Goodnight,” he muttered, still sounding a bit shocked.
Duriana left the room before her resolve could crumble. The moment she was alone, her hands began to shake. She padded down the hallway, forcing down the welling tears and hoping she had made the right decision.
“Do you think he has noticed anything yet?” Duriana asked the next night as their company made camp on the edge of the forest trail. It was a two day walk to Blair Castle, but it was primarily a flat, easy trek. As it grew dark, they had stopped for the night, building a few fires and settling in.
Geoffrey shook his head in the flickering light of the fire, a decent ways from the rest of the soldiers. “He does not seem to have. You cannot keep that helmet on forever, though. People will get suspicious.”
With a sigh, Duriana drew it up over her head. She shrank back from the fire so that her face was bathed in shadows, and arranged her hair to fall forward and cover most of her features. “Better?”
Duriana grunted. “Maybe I will just go to sleep. No one will pay attention to me that way. Goodnight.” She balled up her cloak and curled up on the hard ground. After the long day of walking, she was exhausted and had no trouble getting to sleep. The minute her eyes closed, she was out.
It seemed like only minutes later that Duriana awoke to a light whistling sound and a thud. She rolled over, but then noise had stopped. Figuring it was a bird or something of the like, she closed her eyes again.
Duriana felt something stir the air right next to her face, and she opened her eyes with a gasp. An arrow jutted out of the dirt inches from her face.
“Ambush!” she screamed. Luckily, the other soldiers were too asleep to recognize her voice as a woman’s. On the flip side, they were too far asleep to defend themselves. Duriana shook Geoffrey awake. “Get up! It’s an ambush!”
Geoffrey jolted upright as more arrows rained down upon them. Duriana snatched up her brother’s shield and held it above them just in time to deflect an arrow.
“AMBUSH!” Geoffrey shouted in his loud, deep voice. “On guard!”
By this time, the soldiers were waking, scrambling for weapons. Geoffrey took his shield and sword and jumped up just as the disguised enemies came storming into the clearing. Duriana watched for a moment as they clashed, stunned, before jolting into action. She felt someone behind her and crouched, sweeping a leg out and sending them stumbling face first into the dirt.
Grabbing her bow and arrows, Duriana sprinted for a large boulder nestled next to a tree. She wedged herself in safely and notched an arrow. Aiming quickly, she let it fly into the back of an enemy tribesman. He fell immediately. Duriana picked off as many as she could in this manner, watching as the enemy’s ranks slowly diminished.
Slowly, it seemed as if her father’s company were winning, led by Lord Asselin in his gleaming armor. Duriana scanned the fight for her brother, and found him standing triumphantly over a fallen enemy. She smiled, but caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Hidden in the brush, an archer drew back his bow. Tracing the arrow’s trajectory with her eyes, she realized it was aimed straight at her brother’s head.
Instantly, Duriana reached for an arrow of her own, but her quiver was empty. She muttered a word that was highly inappropriate for a woman of her rank and jumped up, calling to her brother, “Geoffrey!”
He looked at her and grinned, not seeing anything wrong. Duriana started running towards him as she heard the twang of the arrow being let fly. She dove in its path, taking the hit right in the exposed area just above the collar bone. She hit the ground with a thump and saw her brother running towards her.
“Duriana!” he shouted in alarm.
Duriana gasped, feeling her life ebb away. “Love you, Geoffrey,” she managed. “Fig- fight well. Safe.”
“Duriana...” he sobbed, grabbing her hand. “Duriana...” Geoffrey pleaded.
But she had already slipped away.